During the month of March I got to experience one of the coolest opportunities I have had at UMass so far — I participated in our Alternative Spring Break program. Back in October, a fellow coworker and close friend motivated me to apply to be a part of the program and embark on the service trip in the spring. When an idea is planted in my head — even if I tell myself I might not do it or go after it — most often I know that I am ultimately going to follow through with it one way or another. This can be a flaw sometimes, although it is also one of my greatest strengths. Alas, I did apply.
In March, I traveled to Fairmont, North Carolina, with more than twenty UMass students. This group included my close friend Veronica, a few other students I knew fairly well, and the rest borderline strangers. However, during the trip, I grew to create friendships and relationships with everyone on the trip, ranging from students younger than me to one of the elderly men on our trip who served as a driver for us and guided us in the service work we did. He was a riot! He recounted many of his life's adventures, from serving in the Army to working in New York City, and offered tips and suggestions for our educational careers. It made me realize that forming relationships and connections with all sorts of people you meet in different experiences is vital to building yourself as a person.
Fairmont, located in Robeson County, North Carolina, is a community that is in the process of rebuilding itself after it experienced widespread damage to homes and buildings in the community during Hurricane Matthew. Many of the homes near where we stayed were vacant and still had visible damage to them. People had fled the scene and moved away — some temporarily, others permanently. These were the types of homes we worked on during the week, attempting to rebuild and help with the damage that had been inflicted. We were able to connect with an elderly woman named Barbara who lived in the home on which I personally worked. It was special because she expressed us her gratitude so sweetly and got to know us and where we were from. She told us funny stories about her cats and grandchildren and laughed with us.
We were only together on our trip for 9 days, but it felt like so much longer. Whether it was enjoying the North Carolina sun, playing soccer outside, the eight-hour-long van rides, preparing dinner, or demolishing a brick wall, we banded together like a little family, and although the service trip was wonderful and rewarding, the bonds we made were my favorite part. Taking nighttime walks, eating ice cream and left-over mac and cheese, dancing, walking to Clothing and Such, and walking into downtown together are all some of my most fond memories of the trip.
This is just one of the many experience UMass has to offer to its students, giving them a chance to explore, grow, and learn. I have only been motivated to hopefully participate in Alternative Spring Break again next year for the wonderful people and opportunities, helping communities in need, and building friendships along the way.